New Hunters can Benefit from the Structure of an Organized Hunt
By Gary Lewis
We boxed the corner of the standing corn. Sam in the ditch at the point, Mark forty yards to the north and me fifty yards downhill to the east.
Dana, Adam and Chad, who already had a rooster in his game bag were busting up through the ten foot stalks. They whistled, they howled like coyotes and shouted. There were pheasants and quail feeding on the corn and as the guys approached, they ran skittering away toward our corner, to circle on the ground or take, squawking, to the air.
Following the drivers' progress, I was startled to hear a sudden rush of wings behind me as a rooster leapt skyward. Turning, I shot too quick, took a better shot and folded the bird.
We were hunting farmland just west of the Idaho border in eastern Oregon. It is rolling side-hill land, gently sloping up to sage covered tabletops.
Dana had grown up on this place and he had brought us back, with the current owner's permission, to hunt here. It was his son Adam's first time to carry a shotgun in the field.
In fact, we had three young hunters with us, all graduates, within the last two years, of hunter safety programs. Beside the twelve year old Adam, there were Sam, eleven and his brother Chad, thirteen.
The theme of the day was muzzle control. Adam carried a youth model 20 gauge Remington and Sam and Chad shared their 20 gauge pump gun. The goal of this adventure was to put the kids in a real-live hunting situation to test the skills they had been learning. Seeing birds would be just a bonus.
And we saw birds. As many quail in one covey as any hunter has a right to expect. I was hunting a ditch by myself. Rustling in the tall grass stopped me. Quail began buzzing into the air, blasting out over the cut-over corn stubble. I shot and shot again, missing both times, my gun empty with birds still popping out and flying away.
We pushed fields of standing corn, fallow hillsides, fence lines stacked with tumbleweeds and soggy bottomland. Pheasants would burst from cover hundreds of yards away to soar onto the next property or would hold to flush with a roar of wings almost at the toes of our boots. Drives were structured to give everybody a chance. Responsibility and muzzle control were constantly stressed above the bagging of game.
Through it all the boys stayed cool, hoping for a shot on each flush but making the right decisions when a hen pheasant (not legal game) or doves (out of season) would break. There were times when a legal bird would fly, in range, between hunters. Each time, the young hunters made the right choice, choosing not to endanger the other hunters.
It was important for the success of the hunt that certain procedures be followed in driving the fields. When necessary, we walked in a straight line, six abreast across a field. At such times one hunter shouldn't lag behind the rest nor should another get too far ahead. Fields of fire were explained, a hunter in the middle of the line could only shoot up or straight ahead of him, a hunter on the side could shoot up, ahead or to the side where no other hunter was endangered.
Every hunter in our party wore blaze orange vests and hats. Seeing a patch of orange in the stalks of corn or across a field meant you didn't point your gun in that direction, even when unloaded.
Taking new hunters on their first hunting trips can be refreshing and exhilarating. It always makes me remember the reasons I started hunting.
We loaded shotguns with cold fingers and I could see the excitement in their eyes, hear it in their voices. The stalks of corn shook with the November wind. Hen pheasants darted from row to row as the drivers pushed them to the air. We fanned out to work a dry hill, pushing birds ahead of us, flushing them at the fence line. A shimmering rooster I couldn't hit burst from a bush I didn't think was big enough to conceal a hummingbird. These are all memories that will stay with me.